|Carol Ann Pergola.|
March 27 1939-November 10 2013.
It was an early summers eve in mid August. My dad and I were were at a bar trying to distract ourselves with some Happy Hour beer and wings. I was surrounded by laughter and conversation, but I felt like I was in another world.
My grandma had been in the hospital for almost a week. She had been experiencing light-headedness, exhaustion, and loss of appetite for several weeks. My mom and her siblings felt that her doctor was not taking her symptoms seriously enough, so they had made the decision to bring her to the ER, where they knew that the gamut of tests would be run until a diagnosis was made.
After days of waiting, my mom had finally called him from the hospital with some news. My dad had stepped outside to take the call and I remained at the table, waiting. I sat clutching my beer, my stomach in knots, as I waited for my father to return. Something did not feel right to me.
After about ten minutes, my dad returned to the bar, and sat down with a grim expression. My world began to spin as I tried to process what he was saying. Leukemia. Acute. Terminal. No treatment.
My grandma was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, which I had never even heard of until that moment. I still don't understand much about it---I'm not a doctor. My dad explained that when it is diagnosed in children and young adults, AML seems to have a fairly successful survival rate. But the outlook for the elderly is so bleak that doctors recommend that they do not go through with treatment, as the chemo may have a more negative effect than positive. According to my dad, with treatment, her chance of her survival was only around 20%. Without treatment, she had little time left. A month. Maybe two.
True to her stubborn form, my grandma was refusing treatment. She took this diagnosis as a sign from God that she was finished with her work on earth. She wanted to use the rest of her time to say goodbye to her loved ones, not suffering in a hospital bed, sick and weak from chemotherapy. Even as my mother and her siblings begged her to try treatment, my grandma stood firm and maintained that she was ready to face her death. The doctor said she would be gone before Thanksgiving.
I could not comprehend it. The thought of losing my grandma had not crossed my mind. I mean, obviously I knew that one day she would pass, but I hadn't expected it to be anytime soon. She was healthy and relatively fit, with all of her marbles and teeth, and looked about ten years younger than her age. I can't tell you how many times I've had people say to me, "How old is your grandma, she looks so young!" I hadn't just hoped that she would be around for my graduation, for my wedding, to be a great-grandmother, I just expected her to be.
I had tunnel vision for the rest of dinner. I barely choked down my food as I tried to make sense of it all. I was trying to digest all of this information with the realization that I had a huge decision to make. A week and a half from that day, I was supposed to make my way to New York to apply for my Spanish visa, which would allow me to participate in the North American Language Assistant Program. Against all odds, I had received an amazing placement back in Granada and was so excited to embark upon another adventure in Spain.
How quickly things can change. After months of obsessing over Spain, of budgeting and saving, of planning my triumphant return, after countless emails to the Junta...I went home, opened my laptop, and sent an email to the Junta titled "renuncia de plaza".
And just like that, it was over. I would be lying if I said that I was not supremely disappointed. There were a few moments (ok, a few days) of panic, and I cried when I officially cancelled my visa appointment. I agonized over my decision over the next few weeks--was it the right one? Had I turned down an amazing opportunity, something that I had obsessed about for over a year? What if she survived, what if she had been misdiagnosed, and I turned it down for nothing? Would I hate myself for not going?
After all, people die every day. Cars crash, fires burn, freak accidents, heart attacks, whatever. I could of said my goodbyes and gone to Spain with the attitude of "seize the day, live in the moment, you can die at any time, YOLO, live your life" etc. But it was the knowledge, the knowing, that someone I loved was dying that made the decision for me. I had to stay here.
|My high school graduation|
Deep in my heart, I knew that I couldn't leave. After all that my grandma had done for me, after all of her support and love, I could not leave her at a time when she needed me most. She urged me to go ("Can't you just email them back and say that you changed your mind?") and basically told me that I was silly to turn down the opportunity, but that was so typical of her. She did not want me to sacrifice my happiness for her, but I could not leave knowing that she was dying. And inside, I knew that I would have been miserable, tortured, and angry at myself if I had gone to Spain. I don't know that I would have ever forgiven myself.
This is the choice that I made,and I am confident that I made the right one. Endless tears, frustrations, denial, depression, and gloom have filled the last few months, but the last visits that I had with my grandma are moments that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I'm so glad that I didn't give those up.
|One of my favorites---me, my mother, and my grandma. It's like a time warp.|
Spain will always be there, but life is temporary. So, so temporary.
Rest easy, grandma. My heart is so broken. There will always be an emptiness in my life without you here. I'll miss your nasally laugh, your insistence that school is more important than spohts, your lingering Brooklyn accent, your Estée Lauder perfume, your sour cream coffee cake, your endless knowledge of history and your love of books. I know that Grandpa was eagerly waiting for you, and I hope that they don't play too much "boom boom" music in your heaven. Although, if they do, I'm sure that you will advise God of your displeasure (try not to be too hard on him). I love you and will miss you for the rest of my life.
“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”